MURRAY — Salt Lake County and Murray leaders joined with local green groups Monday to launch Utah’s first rainwater collection program.
Through the program RainHarvest, Salt Lake County residents are being encouraged to collect rainfall to save on municipal water use — an effort of the Utah Rivers Council and the Utah chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council that was spurred by the state’s record-low levels of spring runoff and snowpack this year.
“This year’s mild winter means that water levels are low, so we all need to do our part to conserve water,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in a prepared statement. “(RainHarvest) is a creative approach to addressing a problem that affects all of our lives.”
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said the state of Utah is the biggest water user in the country. According to a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey, Utah’s per capita water use is at 248 gallons per person per day, compared to the nation’s average of 155. The study, conducted every five years, also shows Utah’s average water use has increased between 2005 and 2010 while the national average has declined about 8 percent over the same period.
Frankel said with more than 55 cities in the nation already using the same rain-harvesting program, Murray and Salt Lake County made significant water conservation strides for the entire state.
“While the rest of the country reduced its water use over the last five years, Utah’s water use actually increased, so we really need to catch up to other cities across the country that are saving water,” Frankel said. “Finally today, Utah municipalities are starting to do that.”
RainHarvest offers Utahns a discount on rainwater harvesting barrels. Residents of Murray and the rest of Salt Lake County can buy the barrels at $40 each, while other Utahns can buy them for $74. The barrel’s regular retail price is $130.
The 50-gallon barrels attach to household spouts and act as reservoirs for outdoor use, like watering plants or lawns. Rain harvesting was legalized in Utah in 2010.
Nick Schou, Utah Rivers Council conservation director, said about 70 percent of Utah’s annual water use consists of outdoor use, so rainwater harvesting can “reduce demand on the municipal systems” and save money. He said an average household in an arid climate can save about 10,000 gallons in a year.
“Harvesting rain water is a simple and easy way to help reduce our nation-leading water use,” Schou said. “It’s also beneficial for water quality because when we harvest the rain off of our roofs, less water scours our streets and gutters, picking up urban pollutants which are washed into our waterways and lakes.”
Residents can pre-order the discounted barrels on savesomethingutah.org until May 3, or purchase the barrels at an event on May 9 at Murray Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Roughly 250 barrels will be available at the $40 price, and there will be an unlimited amount of $74 barrels throughout the duration of the program, Schou said.
Salt Lake County and Murray respectively donated $5,000 and $6,000 to the program to buy barrels in bulk and subsidize the prices.
Schou said the Utah Rivers Council is “thrilled” that Murray and Salt Lake County have invested in the program and the hope is that more Utah municipalities will follow their example in showing serious commitment to water conservation programs. He said community interest will dictate how much the pilot program will grow, but it is already set to continue with another event in the fall.
Danny Astill, water superintendent of Murray, said while the city is not experiencing any water shortages this year, city officials are concerned about the possibility next year if low snowpack and runoff levels continue.
“We hope our citizens and really all Salt Lake County communities will think about this — that it’s a good opportunity — and that our neighboring communities will also get involved on a larger level,” Astill said.
Robin Carbaugh, with the Utah chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, said rain harvesting is a “baby step” that could lead to more enthusiastic water conservation attitudes in Utah.
“We all know we need to preserve water,” she said, “and this is a great way families can learn together about preserving that valuable resource.”
Additional information and tips for water conservation is available at www.conservewater.utah.gov.